Tongues are used in a few overlapping ways in Scripture and should be pursued and practiced as outlined in the Bible. Scripture shows us that the problem is not tongues but the abuse of the gift of tongues. I think it should be admitted that even if we do not completely understand the gift of tongues we should not forbid their practice in private or publically when interpreted (1 Cor 14:27-28) because Paul explicitly says “do not forbid speaking in tongues” (v. 39).
Paul actually tells people to be ready to share a tongue (1 Cor 14:26) and he says, “I want you all to speak in tongues” (v. 5). Further, Paul tells us that he spoke in tongues more than all the Corinthians (v. 18). Paul said all of this even though “one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit” (v. 2). Therefore, even though tongues are unintelligible to the human mind unless one is given the gift of interpretation (12:10), to speak in tongues is not wrong or bad (see 14:39); although, it should not be done publicly unless there is an interpreter (v. 28).
Many believe that tongues simply refer to a foreign human language (e.g. Ferguson, MacArthur). Michael Horton says, “We should… understand ‘tongues’ as synonymous with natural languages, which some were miraculously gifted to speak and others to interpret.” This understanding of tongues is simplistic and wrong for at least three reasons. (1) Tongues are used to speak to God. Paul says, the “one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit” (v. 2). In this way tongues, at least the way tongues are used here, may be similar to the groans that Romans speaks of (Rom 8:26-27). (2) If tongues are interpreted they seem to function in a similar way as prophecy thus they are different than a foreign speaker coming into a meeting that needs to be interpreted. (3) Paul says there are different types of tongues (1 Cor 12:10, 28). It seems that tongues (glossia) are used in overlapping ways in Scripture. R. P. Spittler points out that in Scripture we see that tongues refer to three types of overlapping phenomena. He says,
‘Kinds of tongues’ (génê glôssôn, 1 Cor. 12:10, 28) can refer to anything on a glossolalic continuum ranging from (1) prayer ‘with groans that words cannot express’ (Rom. 8:26, NIV; preferable to RSV ‘sighs too deep for words’), through (2) tongues speech in a controlled ecstatic jargon that ‘no one understands’ by someone who ‘utterers mysteries to God’ (1 Cor. 14:2), to (3) charismatic use of a recognizable language never learned by the speaker (Acts 2:8).
Regarding tongues, it must also be pointed out that though tongues are good gifts that are given by the Spirit, tongues are not the marker of maturity. Further, tongues are not linked to a “second blessing” or to being filled with the Spirit. Lastly, it must be understood that even if we do not understand something in Scripture does not mean it is wrong or that it does not continue. I, for example, do not understand, the seraphim. But I believe in them. In the same way, just because we may not understand every aspect of tongues does not mean that tongues do not still or cannot function as a blessing to the Church.
Here is a summary of what 1 Corinthians says regarding the gifts of tongues:
(1) There seem to be various kinds of tongues (1 Cor 12:10. 28 cf. 13:1; Acts 2:4).
(2) Tongues are unintelligible and unedifying to the group (1 Cor. 14:2-4, 6, 19) but are edifying to the speaker (v. 4).
(3) Tongues are not a foreign langue but are addressed to God (at least this is the case in 1 Corinthians) (vv. 2, 14-17).
(4) Tongues are not to be shared publically unless interpreted (1 Cor 14:6, 13, 26-33 cf. Acts 19:6).
(5) Tongues themselves are not forbidden but actually encouraged (1 Cor 14:5, 26).
(6) The regulations of tongues show that the tongues speaker is not in “ecstasy” or “out of control” (vv. 27-28).
You can see the previous post in the series here.
There is no exegetical reason for believing the gifts have ceased. Ninth, despite what many believe, there is no convincing exegetical argument for the cessation of the grace gifts. 1 Corinthians 13:10 plays a prominent role in many cessationists’ arguments. It did for me when I was taught as a kid. There is another hermeneutical issue, however. Thomas R. Schreiner says,
To see ‘the perfect’ as referring to the New Testament canon is an example of anachronism…
Instead of referring to spiritual maturity or to the canon of the New Testament, ‘the perfect’ most likely refers to the second coming of Christ, the end of the age. The perfect is equivalent with seeing God face to face (1 Cor. 13:12).
John MacArthur says although many “scholars [e.g. B.B. Warfield, Richard Gaffin, Robert Thomas, Thomas Edgar, Simon J. Kistemaker] disagree on the identification of the ‘perfect,’ they all reach the same conclusion—namely, that the miraculous and revelatory gifts have ceased.” He goes on to say that “we must look elsewhere than 1 Corinthians 13:10, to passages like Ephesians 2:20, where Paul indicated that both the apostolic and prophetic offices were only for the foundational age of the church.”
Many, such as John MacArthur, Richard B. Gaffin, along with Schreiner, end up making the argument that the gifts of the Spirit have ceased because they claim, otherwise, the canon of Scripture would be in jeopardy. That, however, is rather a different issue than if the gifts of the Spirit continue or not. For one, the canon of Scripture, as well as the very existence of the Church, has been in jeopardy since the outset. The way to defend Scripture, as well as the church, is a more robust understanding of what Scripture teaches, not fear.
You can see the previous post in this series here.
Gifts of the Spirit confirm the gospel. Fourth, the gifts of the Spirit serve to authenticate the gospel message (e.g. Rom 15:18-19) and that is still necessary especially in certain contexts but that is not the exclusive reason that God gave the gifts of the Spirit. D.A. Carson correctly points out that just “because miraculous signs have a distinctively attesting role in some instances, it does not follow that this is the only role they play.” Although some assert that the gifts of the Spirit ceased with the closing of the canon they make that claim without biblical warrant. As Carson says, “There is no exegetical warrant for thinking certain classes of the Spirit’s manifestations cease once the crucial points of redemptive history have passed.”
Gifts of the Spirit are poured out in the last days. Fifth, the gifts of the Spirit are part of what it means to be in the last days and we are in the last days.
Cessationists who claim that the healings of Jesus and the apostles where merely authenticating signs of their status as bearers of canonical revelation misunderstand Jesus’ own explanation of them. For Jesus, they are rather expressions of the liberating reign of God, bursting into history, and it is as such that they attest the message of the kingdom.
The gifts of the Spirit are to be expected because they indicate the presence of the Kingdom in the last days. The presence of the Holy Spirit is a sign of the new covenant.
God the Spirit and the Filling of the Spirit
God the Spirit. Since we are considering the work of the Spirit within the church, it is important that we consider God the Spirit, who He is and what He does. First, without going into any detail, the Holy Spirit is the third person of Trinity. The Spirit is fully God. The Holy Spirit also has personhood; He is not an impersonal force. That is who the Spirit is.
Second, it is important that we briefly consider what it is that the Spirit does. The Old Testament teaches us various things about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit molds creation into shape and gives life to created beings (Gen 1:2; 2:7; Ps 33:6; Job 26:13; 33:4). The Spirit controls the course of nature and history (Ps 104:29-30; Isa 34:16). The Spirit teaches and reveals God’s truth and will to His messengers. The Spirit elicits personal response to God. The Spirit equips individuals for leadership. We also see that the Spirit equips individuals with skill and strength (Exod 31:1-11; 1 Kgs 7:14; Hag 2:5; Zech 4:6).
The Spirit is given as our Helper (John 14:24). He takes what belongs to the Son and shares it with those who believe (John 16:14), beginning with the new birth (John 3:6), teaching and guiding (John 16:14), and transforming (2 Cor 3:5-18) in ways that surpass human capacity (1 Cor 2:10-14). He empowers believers to be Jesus’ witnesses to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8) and to the end of the age (Matt 28:20). By indwelling believers (Rom 8:9; 1 John 2:27), the Spirit washes and renews (Titus 3:5), pours out divine love in our hearts (Rom 5:5), reproduces the divine virtues (Gal 5:22-23; Rom 14:17), enables us to resist sin (Rom 8:13) and pursue holiness (2 Thess 2:13), and build unity among the church (Eph 2:22; 4:3, 13; Phil 2:1-2). The Spirit hears, speaks, witnesses, convinces, shows, leads, guides, teaches, commands, forbids, desires, gives speeches, helps, and intercedes with groans. It is vital that we not leave out the most miraculous work that the Spirit works within people; He makes them new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17; 3:3, 6, 18; Titus 3:5-6; Ezek 36:25-28; Rom 2:28-29).
Introduction and Thesis
The Apostle Paul said, “Now concerning spiritual gifts: brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be unaware” (1 Cor 12:1). This is a very important subject yet sadly very divisive. The reality is “there is one body and one Spirit” and “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:4-5) but there are many divergent views on the work of the Spirit within the Church. So we have all the more reason to carefully evaluate this subject.
This subject is important to consider because we want Christ’s church to be as healthy as it can possibly be, we want it to be adorned as Christ would have it. If there are good gifts that are available to the church for it’s upbuilding then we should want to and should make use of them. Especially because 1 Corinthians 12:31 tells us we are to eagerly desire the greater grace gifts.
I believe that all the good gifts that were available at the outset of the church continue to be available and will be until the consummation when the Lord Jesus comes back to get His bride. So my thesis is that God the Spirit continues to empower and provide various grace gifts to the Church for its upbuilding and these gifts should be earnestly desired and practiced in accordance with Scripture. This is very important to consider because “despite the affirmations in our creeds… and the lip service paid to the Spirit in our occasional conversations, the Spirit is largely marginalized in our actual life together as a community of faith.”
Setting the Context
I have a number of questions that are important for us to honestly consider. Could it be the case that some people have a bias against the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit? Could it be that people do not have solid biblical reasons for believing that the “more miraculous” gifts of the Spirit have ceased? Could it be that most people’s beliefs in this regard are simply based upon what they have heard someone else say? Could it be that in this case, people have failed to check what was taught to ensure it was in accordance with Scripture (See Acts 17:11)?
Could it be that the Western enlightenment worldview has crept into our own view of the world and impacted the way we think about spiritual things? Many have adopted a view of reality that sees “the universe as a uniform system based strictly on the cause-and-effect relationships between its constituent parts, each in a determinate relationship one to the others, utterly closed to any dimensions of reality that transcend the natural.” Of course, many Christians rightly confess with Abraham Kuyper, that “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” But, could it still be the case that “naturalism nonetheless deeply influences our view of the daily events of our lives”?
Can we concede that the continuation of the gifts would be a good thing? Should not we want all the grace that our good Father has availed to us? How can we say something is bad that our Father has called good? If the grace gifts are part of the “every good and perfect gifts” (Jas 1:17) that God has graciously given us then should we not receive them gratefully? If spiritual gifts are as bad and unhelpful as many make them seem, then why would the gifts have ever existed at all?